Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU) Team 3 – Running Strong
Written by LT Thornton, MMU3 PIO Staff
February 21, 2015
little over two weeks ago, Change of Command ceremony on February 7, 2015 commemorated the transition of leadership from MMU Team 2 to MMU Team 3. During the ceremony, CAPT James Dickens, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of MMU Team 2, officially turned over the reins by passing the Mission’s Guidon to CAPT Dean Coppola, OIC, MMU Team 3. The passing of the Mission’s Guidon is a time honored tradition signifying the transfer of responsibility associated with command. Paraphrasing the words of both the outgoing and incoming OIC’s, much has been accomplished and much more remains to be done. As Team 2 stood down and relinquished their duties, Team 3 stepped up to assume those responsibilities and build on successes of the teams CAPT Dickens passes the Guidon to CAPT Coppola that came before. This was a truly joyous and humbling moment for individual officers on both teams. As one team took up the mantle of providing hope for healthcare workers in Liberia who may have contracted the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), the other team looked forward to returning to their loved ones after a job well done.
MMU Team 3 (left) and MMU Team 2 (right) in formation at Change of Command Ceremony
Team 2 yells and cheers as Team 3 walks off the busses and into the Living Support Area.
However, we would be missing a significant part of the story if we did not briefly highlight the events that led up to the change of command between MMU Team 2 and Team 3. Team 3 participated in pre-deployment training in Anniston, Al developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and hosted by Department of Homeland Security. During this training a small number of Team 3 officers contracted influenza and, like the good public health officers we are, we mitigated risk by implementing some simple precautions, to include putting the entire team on Tamiflu. We also delayed departure a few extra days to ensure not only that Team 3’s officers would be in the best condition when we hit the ground in Africa, but also, so that Team 2 would not be put at any risk and could return home safely. All the while, Team 2 excitedly planned and prepared for Team 3’s arrival, drafting and organizing SOP’s and setting up transition schedules. To make a long story short, Team 3 boarded a plane and was recalled to Atlanta, GA after 3 plus hours of flight time over the Atlantic. The change in plans would ground Team 3 in the U.S. for 3 more days. It goes without saying that, after being delayed almost a week, Team 2 was just as excited for Team 3’s arrival as Team 3 was to have finally arrived.
The MMU has seen 37 patients since its doors opened, 19 of which have been positive for Ebola. Team 3 is the first MMU team to assume command of the MMU with confirmed Ebola positive patients admitted; so from the start it was full speed ahead. In fact, training at other ETU’s in Liberia, a common practice with previous MMU teams, was not necessary since our transition training included Memorial for patients seen at the MMU. Drawing of an MMU providing care for Ebola positive patients photo done by Team 1 Officers within our very own unit. Team 2 did an extraordinary job with the transition; passing along concepts and practices established by Team 1 and adding their own experiences and enhancements. The foundation provided during the CDC and USPHS pre-deployment training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, coupled with the in-country experience and training provided by team 2, set the pace for team 3.
MMU Team 2 leading practical training of MMU team 3 for doffing as part of the transition training.
MMU Team 3 night shift LCDR’s Bellama (left) and Bonislawski (right) inspecting each item of PPE before putting it on. Night shift Nurse Lead CDR Cindy Adams is assisting with doffing.
It was bittersweet when team 2 departed early on February 7th
. We had quickly bonded with our fellow Officers and worked well together during training. Yet, we were also eager to take the reins and do what we had been called upon to do. Team 3 quickly took to caring for our patients and running the MMU with an enthusiasm and vitality that comes with any new task and undertaking. Additionally, the unit had many outside groups visit the MMU, including, U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance and Response Team (DART), CDC, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Army, Directors from other ETU’s, such as the International Organization of Migration and Aspen Medical. All wanted to see the MMU, the facility that not only was caring for Health Care Workers (HCW) stricken with EVD but also bolstered the confidence of the Liberian and Dr. Wasambla, Director of the Tubmanberg ETU international HCW community to take a stronger stand against Ebola; knowing that the U.S. Public Health Service manning the MMU had their backs if they became ill with EVD symptoms.
Caring for healthcare workers so they, in turn, can care for Ebola patients throughout the region is a noble mission and one not to be taken lightly. We are providing hope and a commitment to care for those who are fighting Ebola on the front lines in Liberia. The Team understood the gravity of our mission and how deadly and unforgiving Ebola Virus Disease is while training, yet nothing can reinforce that reality like treating Ebola positive patients. However, like the MMU teams before us, and all our Ebola fighting peers to date, we stand strong in our commitment to service and the optimism and hope we have for each and every patient. Early in our mission our resolve was tested with the passing of one of our patients, a patient who fought from the day of admission by Team 2 until the day he passed. When that battle was lost, we ensured dignity and cultural sensitivity was observed, we witnessed the family’s strength through faith, and we consoled one another. That deep feeling of loss was palpable in the days that followed, yet we pressed on, because we still had patients who were depending on us. Hearts heavy with loss, our EVD positive patient, was improving dramatically, fueled us both to continue healing ourselves and each other. And heal we all did, especially when Marphen Yardolo walked out of the Confirmed Ward MMU on the 17th
of February to be welcomed back to her family and the world. She was now the 9th
Ebola survivor from the MMU.
As of February 21, the MMU continued to experience a growing surge of interest among government agencies and senior officials, NGO’s, Embassy Staff and Congressional staff. Although Ebola embers continue to burn throughout the affected countries, this increasing number of tours is an obvious sign of progress made toward eradicating Ebola in Liberia specifically, and West Africa too. We have established great working relationships with sister Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), including two run by International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Buchanan and Tubmanberg, who committed to helping us supplement our clinical staff if our patient numbers increase. Visits from congressional staff and HHS Assistant Secretaries has allowed senior U.S. Government representatives to meet and converse with MMU Team 3 officers and see the importance and value of this mission first-hand. Another unique aspect of the mission is direct engagement, by invitation, with other countries’ deployed forces, specifically the Ukrainian Detached Helicopter Unit and the Chinese and German ETU’s. Our officers have been able to attend significant functions and events, further enhancing our U.S. diplomatic and technical relationships.
A Story in the Making…
It is evident that while each team serves to execute a similar mission, each team so far has had, and will continue to have, some distinctly different experiences while in Liberia. To that end Team 3 eagerly meets each day with enthusiasm and unbridled optimism knowing we are still writing our story.